Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ask A [Two Time] Cancer Survivor

There are people all around you that are doing, or have done extraordinary, interesting, amazing things. Some are dealing with unimaginable struggles. Others are accomplishing great feats. All of them have and are still overcoming great obstacles. 

I want to tell their stories. I want to build awareness. I want to spread the word. I want people to be more tolerant, more informed, and more respectful.

Derin celebrating beating cancer (AGAIN) at her "Cancer Schmancer" party

Today, we are talking to the lovely Miss Derin. I met Derin in 2007 (I think. Give or take a year--time escapes me) when we worked together at Orange Soda. She is an amazing person and an excellent friend. I think we are all aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month--and, though Derin did not have breast cancer, I felt that this was a good month to feature her. I'm sure that everyone is seeing little pink ribbons (and, let's face it, pink EVERYTHING--I saw a pink swiffer mop at the store last night!) everywhere. It's so awesome that everyone is donating and spreading awareness, but did you know that there is also an Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month?? Yup. September. Too bad I didn't know that before! The color for Ovarian Cancer Awareness is teal. LOVE it! So that's why this post is going to be in PINK and TEAL!

Briefly tell us a little about yourself.

I am officially in my 30th year in this wonderful world! Right now my life consists of Dr. visits, tests, scans, and WORK. I love what I do and I love life! I recently received test results from my Dr. that my current battle with cancer is remission cancer-0 Derin-2.  I'm blessed with an amazing husband, family, and the BEST friends EVER!!!

Beautiful Derin on her wedding day

So the feature this month is "Ask a Cancer Survivor" - what type(s) of cancer was/were you diagnosed with?

In 2005 I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. The cancer had progressed to stage four, that being the most severe stage for ovarian cancer. Having spread into my abdomen, the cancer had quickly invaded every space available; constricting the proper function of organs, and wrapping itself around nerves and major arteries alike. The far reaching fingers of the disease had also found its way into my chest cavity, there attaching itself to my lungs. Even a small amount had deposited itself in my shoulder near my collar bone.

Then again in November 2009 it came back with vengeance. Again I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. The cancer had progressed to stage three. It also spread into my pancreas.

Derin and me--BFF!

What crossed your mind the first time you were told that you had cancer? and how were you told? 

I knew it was gonna be bad news since my doctor asked me to come into the office and to bring a family member or friend with me. I asked the first Doctor if he was high. The I was filled with denial. I went through all 5 of the stages of grief:
1. Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
2. Anger
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.
The doctor who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure the disease might become a convenient target. Health professionals deal with death and dying every day. That does not make them immune to the suffering of their patients or to those who grieve for them.
Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to give you extra time or to explain just once more the details of your loved one’s illness. Arrange a special appointment or ask that he telephone you at the end of his day. Ask for clear answers to your questions regarding medical diagnosis and treatment. Understand the options available to you. Take your time.
3. Bargaining
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
     If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
     If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
     If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
4. Depression
Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
5. Acceptance
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.

What treatments have you undergone in your fight against cancer?

In 2005 after being diagnosed over the next 6-8 months I would spend close to two months in the hospital, being operated on 5 times, and experience two grueling months of Chemotherapy. It is not an experience that I would ever want to relive.

In 2009 I did a course of aggressive radiation, as well as a year of herbal treatments and holistic remedies. I did multiple drug trial as well as chemo booster shots. I flat out refused to do full on chemo EVER AGAIN!! NO THANK YOU!  All of which I attribute my current remission to. AMEN!!!

Obviously, there are negative side-effects to certain cancer treatments. What were yours?

With the Chemo from having the toxic chemicals of chemotherapy run through my veins for over eight hours I had terrible pains, and sickness.. Needless to say, I was exhausted and extremely tired as the poisons continued their destructive course through my body; indiscriminately killing cancer cells and normal healthy body cells alike. The radiation drains my energy, causes extreme bone pain and I have major memory loss, thank you chemo/radiation.

How did you cope with treatments and being ill?

Lots of meds!!!!! Hot baths, massage (you need to clear this with your Dr first it can be dangerous for cancer patients), I was blessed with an amazing support system. Having that can make or break your fight. If you are reading this and do not have a support system, please contact me. This is not something anyone should do alone. On that note you also have to LET people support you. This is so hard but once you do you will feel so much better.

Derin and her wonderful husband, Phil

What things did you do to keep your spirits up and hope alive?

Singing, I LOVE music and watching musicals they make me smile and take my mind off of the issues I am facing. Educating myself to know what alternative treatments are out there are great ways to stay positive. I know that it is so hard to be strong and positive but when I was and am I feel like I can do anything. When I am sad or depressed or self-pitying, my life was a lot harder to live through. There were times when all I thought about were ways to end my life. I wanted to kill myself before the cancer killed me. Those were my low points.

What kinds of reactions did you get from other people when they found out that you had cancer?

I think the biggest was that people didn't know what to say. Some cried, or stared blankly.

Did people treat you differently after they knew? If so, in what way?

Some people distanced themselves from me while other rose to be the amazing pillars of support that I needed. I get upset when I hear people say things like, I can't deal with you being sick..... HELLO how do you think I feel?

Me and Derin at her 30th birthday outing

I can imagine your body went through a lot of physical changes throughout the whole process - what were they and how did the changes affect your perception of yourself?

The chemo killed my teeth, I have constant pain in my bones and joints. I lost my hair and most of my taste sense. I still have digestive issues, developed a seizure disorder and am in CONSTANT discomfort.

Do you feel like you changed spiritually and/or mentally since the time you were first diagnosed?

In a huge way. Lying there in my own pain and sorrow, I gained some sense of the eternal vastness of Christ's agony and pain. And how small my suffering seemed to be when compared to that of the infinite and eternal! What gratitude filled my heart as I thought about how he loved me so much that he willingly took upon himself my suffering and more! Peace entered my soul as I felt his love comfort and surround me.

What sort of social stigmas did you encounter, if any?

That I'm too sick to be capable of doing anything. I felt like people didn't want to invite me to do things because they thought I was maybe too sick. Just because someone has cancer doesn't mean they can't be productive in society.

Go get 'em!

Were there things that people said or did that hurt your feelings?

People would say that they didn't want to get close to me because they didn't want to "lose me". It was hard.

What terms or phrases should we avoid when speaking or referring to those who have been diagnosed with cancer?

I hated when people called me sick, or sick with cancer. I like to think of it as living with cancer or fighting cancer things like that. When you have cancer the last thing you want to hear is someone tell you you're sick. Putting the positive spin on it will keep spirits high and stress low.

What programs, if any, are out there to help people who are struggling with cancer - either financially or emotionally? 

These groups can refer you to any assistance that you need. As well as me. I am big into helping spread the word and to teach through my experience.

What can we do to help build awareness or assist in any way? (time, money, etc.)

I am a big supporter of Relay for Life through the American Cancer Society. There are a number of things to raise awareness.The MOST common type of cancer "awareness" is for breast cancer. It is frustrating to me that very few people think of the other types. Awareness is key to early detection and higher survival rates. Look at me, I was terminal twice and I am here today alive and breathing. Did you know that there are over 200 kinds of cancers? Well, now ya do!!

Derin in Utah County Relay For Life 2010

I want to thank Derin for being the guest of honor here at Mrs. Rogers' Neighborhood today and for being the star of my newest feature, "Ask A..."!! If you would like to visit Derin's blog, click here! Also, if anyone has any follow-up questions or wants to know more, feel free to email me and I'd be more than happy to relay any messages.

Next month's feature will be "Ask A Deployed Soldier". If you have any questions or requests, please email me ASAP so I have enough time to correspond with our soldier.


  1. Wow! What a great interview. I read some parts twice. I know we shouldn't live in fear, but cancer scares me. It really does. I'm so glad she has beat the cancer twice! And that one is harder to detect I think.

    200 different cancers? Wow!!

  2. Thank you for that encouragement "impulsive addict" It's true cancer is very scary but if we live our lives in fear we are not really living. The key to it all is awareness and early detection! Thanks for making me feel special!!! Ash thanks for interviewing me it means so much to me. Love you girly!!!